Duncan Jennings is the founder of discount website Vouchercodes.co.uk. An entrepreneur from a young age, Jennings recently sold his website to an American online retail giant - so is he happy working for a big company, or is he yearning to start from scratch all over again?
How did you get into the business of discount vouchers?
Before Vouchercodes I'd run a few different internet start ups. At 16 years old I was registering domain names and selling them on, then I had a domain name hosting registration company with 10,000 customers by the time I was 17. I also had a travel library which I sold to Expedia.
Then in August 2008 I wanted to own a website that helped people, and noticed that even at the beginning of the recession people wanted to buy big brands, but they wanted value for money too. At that time, I didn't realise how deep the recession was going to be, so we launched the site.
Today we've got six million members and two million of them use our app, and we've got 60 staff.
A US company called Whaleshark media, the largest coupon site in America, acquired the business in August 2011. It has hundreds of millions of site visitors. Whaleshark media is a interesting business as a whole – it has loads of big investors including JPMorgan and Google Ventures, so for me it was really exciting to be part of such a large company.
Where did you get the funding from in the early days?
Wherever I could! I've never formally raised money or borrowed a single pound; even when I was 16 I worked at a deli to raise the money to put into the business.
As soon as you take debt on board you go from controlling your own destiny to not controlling it. I understand that sometimes it's necessary, if high start up costs apply or you have a high growth strategy, but family and friends are a good place to start, if you can.
If you can wait until you've got a finished product to apply for investors' money, you'll get a much higher value from people like venture capitalists – especially if it's already driving revenue.
What difficulties have you faced?
Finding great technical people is one of the biggest hurdles – I'm not a developer myself but for this product it was so important for me to get the right tech talent. That takes a long time to find and nurture. I was terrible at finding them originally – it's only really been in the past five years that I've got good at it.
You also need to make sure you've got a big enough target market; when you're looking at online, even in retail only one in every £10 is spent online, so if you decide to become niche you immediately slice that percentage (of potential customers) down.
We weren't the first to launch our sort of site – there were already hundreds – but we thought we could deliver a better product by focusing on the brands we knew people loved. So we worked really closely with retailers to get exclusive offers and made it as easy as possible to benefit from those offers.
All our discounts are just from a code you put in at the online checkout, or print off and show in store, or have on your smart phone. I'm a big believer in keeping things simple because people just don't have that much time.
What's been the biggest change in your industry?
There's an increasing focus on getting discounts online but using physical vouchers in store – a huge number of online savings are available now, but we need to make sure they can take those vouchers into the store too – people expect that these days.
It's the same audience, we just want to say 'we can help online or in store'.
What does the future hold for you?
I'm focused on growing the international business now – we bought the top French voucher site recently. At the moment, I’m very happy with my work and what I'm doing – I've spent a long time developing my team.
For the industry, I think the discounts are only going to get bigger. I haven’t seen discounts like this since 2008.
People seem to be shopping later this year – you're finding that retailers are looking at the amount of stock they've got and are asking whether they'll be able to shift it all.
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